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December 2011

It has arrived. Quite early, as a matter of fact. And not quite expected. Winter. Snow is thickly covering every branch of the trees that surround the house. The evening sky is crystal clear. Gleaming. A crescent moon slips between the trees. I have loved winter at other times in my life, preferring it to summer, as a matter of fact. It has been my favorite of seasons. And for a few moments today it would have seemed to have regained its favored place. Winters when I was growing up were the creative times. I was bed ridden most of the time from Thanksgiving through Easter on and off and left to my own devices. To both educate myself and entertain myself. I remember thinking it was self-indulgent (at eight years old) to be bored in that little room in which I spent more of my time and so I devised a game for myself. I wrote on slips of paper ten things that I knew interested me to do at one time or another and put them in a paper bag. I then drew a slip from the bag. If I didn’t feel like doing it I could draw two more. If one appealed to me I still had to choose one of the three and do it. And so I found myself drawing on the bedroom windows to make “stained glass”, or pealing tangerine seeds and threading the little green pits to make a necklace. Or knitting with Ombre yarn while reading The Three Musketeers. I bought a year or two ago a cook book stand that was fashioned in such a way that I now can knit and read more easily at the same time. Not that I do, very often. But I can should I so decide.
            There is a kind of personal creativity that takes hold of me, winters. Or that has. And it came back today, briefly. A very nice loaf of bread rises in the kitchen. And a very nice fire glows in the living room fireplace. I’ve pumpkin marmalade and sweet butter to go on the bread when it is finished being baked. And a nice book to reread if the inclination strikes me.
            I just visited the carriage house farm with three chickens under my arms, the three that escaped, to their regret, and tried to move into the wood room. Never again, I insisted. Last winter the carriage house was too cold for them and some were moved into the wood room. Never again. I still haven’t finished scraping their droppings from the pretty little bench I had made in order to sit and pull boots on and off. All the rest of the scrapings landed under the apple trees my mother gave me when I first came here. It may have helped them to produce the plethora of fruit they produced that year.
            Nunzio, donkey, moved into the carriage house a few days ago. I should have realized then that winter was on its way on rapid feet, as a matter of fact. The littlest goats are getting fat on both grain and good hay. I love their coats now, thickening every day. A grain room is being built in there now. To best contain the various types of grain needed for their home in the carriage house farm. Goats and doelings and donkey and ducks and chickens and rooster and lambs to be fattened live there. The new grain room now is a pristine space with three walls, two windows and an immaculate floor. It is about to have a fourth wall which will include a sliding gate, in front of the frost free hydrant. The newly created interior wall has been built of two inch thick rough cut lumber that is suitable for horse stalls. In other words, indestructible. It is almost five feet high and shall be topped by chicken wire so birds can’t assemble inside. I will love it. I almost already do. It is indestructible.
            A suitable name for the little Sable buck has not stuck yet. Peregrine surfaces as a likely first choice. Sometimes a name suggests itself and then disappears. Others, like that of his half sister, Verity, becomes permanently attached immediately. The two are an enchanting pair. She is pure white. Supposedly a sable but with the distinct appearance of the Saanen. She is pure white. He is chestnut colored, without a hair of any other color. Verity’s twin sister looks like a Tog, which confounds me. The Sable Registry assured me that that can happen. I find it both disconcerting and hard to accept particularly as I am breeding the Togs out of the herd. Adelaide Merrimen and Gillian Merriman are the only two pure Togs in the carriage house now. There are two pitch black half Sable, half Togenburg doelings with Toggenburg markings. It will be interesting to see what kind of kids they will throw, late spring. I ultimately want an all chocolate colored flock. That is the plan.
            This little touch of winter has awakened in me the memory of all of the early days here. The days before I started farming. As well as the days when there were first sheep in the barn. I used to cook for myself like a farm wife. Delicious smells greeted me, winter afternoons when I came in from the barn. Dishes, like Fidget Pie that didn’t require a specific number of minutes in the oven, apple, onion and bacon under a lard crust. The temptation to add some seasonings other than a flash of pepper had to be in the beginning, restrained. Not even a touch of garlic could be allowed to rush the purity of this simple dish. I had first come across in Dorothy Hartley’s Food in England only to find it once more in a reproduction an even older book citing the recording of the “receipt” (that version) from around 1850. One thing that always impresses me about many of these traditional farm recipes is how balanced they are. In essence Fidget Pie is a meat, a vegetable, starch and bread. All in equal amounts. I made Hack bean soup which improves with long working and if money permitted, a pate of veal, sausage bacon, chicken liver and spinach. My favorite meal of all time was eaten in front of this very same fire, and included the aforementioned pate, preceded by an endive, orange and raisin salad and followed by a prune pie baked tall in a coffee can. I’ll never forget that dinner, one winter night, in the very beginning of starting to farm.
            This first breath of winter brought with it a touch of fear and its counterpart.  What am I to do about it? Lists, of course, were immediately created. The question that plagues me here, at all times. What demands with the loudest voice? “The barn? The carriage house? My house? The front apartment renovation? Winterization? Or something? And so I spent the day on what is called grand miscellany in this household.
And that is whatever I was drawn to the most immediately. That mention never creates completion of any one project. But does create a kind of interest and enthusiasm to the day that has its own satisfaction. Therefore, Grand Miscellany included a visit and conversation with Guiseppe Patrick Nunzio MacGuire, donkey, and the goats with whom he is sharing the carriage house. And a walk to the brook to close its gate as well as to see if there were any crab apples left in the Riparian Buffer zone. And some time spent in a room long abandoned in this house of man y rooms, a room thought to b e impossible to restore without the services of a small army, a great deal of money, and a large supply of courage. Needless to say it wasn’t as formidable a task as I have always thought. I even repaired a window myself, found its complimentary storm, brought it in to be washed, as well as consolidated the debris from the disaster that had caused its rain. All in all it is re3ady and asks for only a reasonable and modest amount of work. Oh, a wall needs to be sheet rocked, but it is a very small one, and a slanted ceiling, also very small. I’ll tear up a floor I had put down thirty years ago and always hated. (I didn’t choose the wood). But it has entered the realm of the possible leaving the realm of despair for the first time in years.
            Nelly Zolotoroffski, Border Collie dog, is curled up next to me in my chain by the fire. She and I just barely fit and only because one of the arms broke a number of years ago, turning it into a kind of Victorian conversation seat. When the dogs are very anxious to be near me both manage to climb into it. I become squished. So be it.
            This first breath of winter has brought with it a curious mix of ideas and responses that I have never known before. The self who spent a longer time in the carriage house with the donkey and goats is a familiar self. But one I haven’t been as often of late. And the person going into the abandoned room is almost an unfamiliar self. Finding that it wasn’t as hopeless as I had thought was completely unfamiliar. Being able to plan so quickly has to restore it and having someone to talk it over with sometimes has added a new dimension, of course, but that isn’t quite it. What is familiar, however, is deeply so. The child I was at eight, looking out of a “stained glass” window at the snow and then going back to her book and knitting is exactly the same person I am today, returning my attention to knitting this season’s barn cap and reading excerpts from my newest favorite book. Perhaps the books were more intellectually stimulating, but none-the-less, I am still that person. But this brief foray into winter has also revealed an unexpected self.

Sylvia Jorrin

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